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Are the prestigious colleges better than others?

  1. Oct 19, 2007 #1
    Are the prestigious colleges "better" than others?

    I really love physics and I might actually be able to get into a good college for physics (University of Illinois at Urbana) but money is probably going to be an issue for me. I'm also not too fond of leaving all the people I've known my entire life and going somewhere a couple hundred miles from where most of them are going (Kentucky colleges).

    So I was wondering if U of I is a whole heck-of-alot-better than say University of Louisville in Kentucky. Every single website I come across consistently lists U of I as a very good school for physics and I really haven't seen any mentioning Louisville.

    So I suppose my question would be if physics programs differ widely from college to college or if they are pretty much the same.
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 19, 2007 #2
    It can make a difference sometimes. I've compared what topics are covered in my school with what went into a friend's courses, at a less demanding school. Apparently they skimmed over or completely ignored a bunch of topics that we have to study.

    My experience is anecdotal, though.
  4. Oct 19, 2007 #3
    It comes down to where you fit best.

    Are you a person that can adapt easily and be thrown into a new environment and still do well? If you cannot, it would be very difficult for you to go away from home. If you need the comfort and support of your friends, then stay where you are located.

    Even if UI has a better physics program, it won't matter at all if you cannot do well in the department because you feel home sick.

    If you feel that you can do well, then you now have to consider the focus of each school. Do both schools offer what you want to learn. Do you feel that the courses are comparable. Is the atmosphere the right kind for you? These are all questions you will have to answer. Take your time and answer them with complete honesty.
  5. Oct 19, 2007 #4
    Coming from someone at a non-prestigious school, my math classes have less or no proofs, engineering classes have less derivations/theory, and physics classes have been comparable to curriculum on MIT opencourseware.

    More mediocre students means that the pace is slower and tests have less outside-of-the-box questions.

    The typical student plans on leaving school after their BS, so the general mood is more related to applications and industry rather than research.

    Of course the difference is not that extreme, and I feel that I'm getting a quality undergraduate education.
  6. Oct 19, 2007 #5


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    I can't advise you much about physics programs at different schools, but I'll let you in on a not-too-well-kept secret. Everyone is apprehensive about moving away from home and all their friends to start college, and the vast majority of your classmates will be in exactly that same boat with you. You'll stay in touch with the best of your friends, and will make new friends when you go off to college.

    While I was in college, I volunteered a couple of years on the freshman orientation committee, and then worked in residence life through grad school. Here's the one and only tip you'll need to get over homesickness...stay busy! In your first week of school, look around at all the flyers of activities to do, and pick an activity to do every day, then over the next few weeks, go to the opening meetings for any organization that interests you, see what you like, and pick one or two to stick with the rest of the semester. You'll get through the homesickness with flying colors, and if you go to all those activities, will have a bunch of new friends in no time. Don't let that fear hold you back from a good school.

    Finances are of course another issue entirely. Don't let that stop you from applying though. Apply, see if you even get accepted, and if you do, then see what sort of financial aid is available. It might turn out more affordable than you expected. If not, yes, you might have to settle for something else you can afford. Make sure you apply to the affordable in-state schools too.

    Another option to consider is to take your intro courses at one school, and apply to transfer for the remaining years. You might end up adding on a year with credits that don't all transfer, but you might want to see if the intro courses at the two schools are comparable enough that you could do that without falling behind if you transfer.

    Don't forget,there are a lot of other factors that need to be considered when choosing a school. As pointed out above, the best program in the world will be useless if you're too miserable to survive it. Start planning tours of the campuses. See what the living environment is like, what the student:teacher ratio is, how many of your major courses will be taught by professors, and how many by TAs, etc. What about the town around the school? Is that a place you can envision living for 4 years? If you don't drink, and the only thing to do in town are the pub crawls, you're not going to be happy. Likewise, if you're looking for things like joining a fraternity, and the school you're looking at really doesn't have much of a greek system, you might not be happy.
  7. Oct 19, 2007 #6
    if you're committed to learning it doesn't matter where you go. i go to a state school and my education is commensurate with a top tier school because i make it that way. yes my classes are boring and most of my peers are slow but in the end i always have the book and office hours.
  8. Oct 20, 2007 #7


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    they do have more knowledgeable professors, and stronger students. whether this makes them better for you is not clear.
  9. Oct 20, 2007 #8
    stronger like lifting weights stronger? i can bench press 2x my body weight, i'm pretty strong.


    enough knowledgeable people have written books that it doesn't matter
  10. Oct 20, 2007 #9
    Your best bet may be to visit the school, talk to students there, maybe meet some professors. As far as the education, yes overall there may be stronger/more motivated students at UIUC, although that doesn't mean that you would get a bad education at Kenctucky. You could also try to compare the curriculum (e.g. look at texts used, previous exams if available, etc.).

    As far as being homesick or missing your friends, yes that might happen. However, I think that being out of your comfort zone is often a very good thing. Meeting new people with different backgrounds and perspectives would definitely help you grow as an individual.
  11. Oct 20, 2007 #10
    Thanks you guys. Quite frankly, I never even thought of considering what type of town it is in or a lot of other things that were mentioned.
  12. Oct 20, 2007 #11


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    stronger in this case means smarter, more experienced, more knowledgeable, more sophisticated, more talented, more enthusiastic, better looking, with better resumes, and harder working. clear enough? bench press that.
    Last edited: Oct 20, 2007
  13. Oct 20, 2007 #12


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    what they have more are professors with a publication records and funded research. that may be good, depending on which side of the challenge push the OP finds himself/herself on.

    i'm EE and not physics and i went to the U of North Dakota (not prestigious, but solid). the profs had more time to spend with students, to prepare for classes that they teach, and do curriculum and lab design. ND had this reciprocity agreement with MN (we paid in-state tuition to each other's schools), and to my surprize, we had more students that transferred from UM to UND, than the other way around (they said they had a more positive experience as students, were learning better, and were succeeding more with less stress). i was also a grad student at Northwestern U in Evanston IL (more prestigious). the profs there had little time or inclination to spend with students (particularly undergrads) that were not working directly under the prof (doing his research, essentially), they seemed to resent teaching important, but basic undergrad courses. were often not well prepared for class and subsequently were not the most coherent or organized lecturers. as a grad student from UND, i felt i was much better prepared in the fundamentals than the grad students that had their undergrad schooling at NU.

    i know of a few alumns from UIUC (all PhDs), some that i respect greatly, and one that i do not respect at all.

    don't get me wrong - you can get crappy profs at any school. and really good profs at any school. but with pretigious schools, you will likely get more pretense, more effort spent at this competitive publication and funding game, and less effort spent at the mission that normally benefits undergrads the most (teaching, advising/tutoring, and other curricular issues). and they're more expensive and competitive for the student. if the OP expects to be on top of the pack, he/she might do better at a prestigious school and might be underchallenged at a more nurturing, less prestigious school.
  14. Oct 20, 2007 #13
    More intimidating, certainly.
  15. Oct 20, 2007 #14
    I have a friend that went to Arkansas State University. Received his masters from the University of Missouri at Rolla, and after that, went to Oxford. In the end, work your ass off, and you'll go far.
  16. Oct 23, 2007 #15
    Yeah, I see where you are coming from. From what I've read U of I is a pretty crowded college. That would probably mean that professors don't spend as much time with individual students.

    I thought I might go a Kentucky school as an undergraduate then see if I can get into U of I for a graduate school.
  17. Oct 23, 2007 #16
    Again, I would recommend visiting schools that you may be interested in. It also gives you a chance to talk to current students there and maybe ask about important things such as undergraduate research opportunities. Keep in mind that you will be spending at least 4 years of your life wherever you go. You could always transfer, but it would be better to explore your options beforehand.
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